Turning Readers Into Writers

059 - Interview with environmental writer Susan DeFreitas

April 22, 2021 Emma Dhesi Season 1 Episode 59
Turning Readers Into Writers
059 - Interview with environmental writer Susan DeFreitas
Show Notes Transcript

About Susan DeFreitas

Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award, and the editor of Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin (forthcoming from Forest Avenue Press).  

An independent editor and book coach, she specialises in helping writers from historically marginalised backgrounds, and those writing socially engaged fiction, break through into publishing.

Connect with Susan

Susan DeFreitas | author, editor, coach

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Emma Dhesi:

Hello, I'm Emma Dhesi and welcome to another episode of turning readers into writers. If you're brand new here, welcome. And here's what you need to know. This is a community that believes you are never too old to write your first novel, no matter what you've been up to until now, if you're ready to write your book, I'm ready to help you reach the end, I focus on helping you find the time and confidence to begin your writing journey, as well as the craft and skills you need to finish the book. Each week I interview debut authors, editors and industry experts to keep you motivated, inspired, and educated on all things writing, editing, and publishing. If you want to catch up, head on over to emmadhesi.com, where you'll find a wealth of information and tools to help you get started. Before we dive in, this week's episode is brought to you by my free cheat sheet 30 Top Tips to find time to write. In this guide, I give you 30 ways that you can find time to write in the small gaps that appear between the various errands and tasks and responsibilities that you have in your day to day life. I know you might be thinking that you don't have any time to spare, but I can guarantee these top tips will give you writing time you didn't think you had. If you thought writing always involved a pen and paper or a keyboard. Think again. If you thought you needed at least an hour at a time to write your manuscript. I help you reframe that you won't be disappointed. Get your free copy of 30 Top Tips to find time to write by going to emmadhesi.com /30 Top Tips Okay, let's dive in to today's episode Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel hot season, which won a gold IPP why award and is the editor of dispatches from an RS tales in tribute to Ursula Gwynn forthcoming from forest Avenue press, an independent editor and book coach. She specializes in helping writers from historically marginalized backgrounds and those writing socially engaged fiction breakthrough into publishing. So let's delve into this fascinating conversation with Susan and find out more how she uses fairy tales to rate her socially engaged fiction. Susan, thank you so much for being here with me today. I'm delighted to chat to you.

Susan DeFreitas:

Oh, thank you for inviting me.

Emma Dhesi:

Now. I always start my conversations with asking my guests, you know, how did you get started in writing? What's kind of brought you to this point?

Susan DeFreitas:

Yeah, you know, I started writing fiction pretty much as soon as I could read it. You know, I'm one of one of those people. So I started when I was eight years old, I wrote, you know, illustrated, ridiculous, you know, mystery stories about cats that lived aboard ships. My dad was a chief engineer on the sailing ship. There were in junior high. I, when I read fantasy and science fiction, I wrote my first novel, you know, I believe it was, you know, around 100 pages. But it was a big accomplishment for an 11 year old. I won some little small town awards. And then I want to, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, which is a Boarding School for the Arts. And that is an experience that absolutely set my course. You know, I discovered not only amazing, you know, writers of fiction there, but the great poets, you know, and it was really one of the most amazing years of my life, it's set my taste for really top shelf fiction. And maybe, you know, I just decided that's it. You know, I want to do that more than anything else. And so, you know, I majored in creative writing fiction and undergrad. And, you know, I was always writing a novel, always working on a book all through my 20s. You know, regardless of what my day job or my gigs were, you know, um, but it wasn't until I was in my early 30s, that I went back to school and got my MFA, and really centered writing in my life that way and that's also the point where I became in an editor first and then later a book coach. So you could say that it has always been with me and but maybe it took a while to become the main thing I was doing with my life.

Emma Dhesi:

I'm always interested in the MFA programs and people who have taken them. What do you feel was your passion main takeaway from doing that, that you that kind of either elevated or changed or enhanced your writing?

Susan DeFreitas:

You know, I came in with a very strong sense of the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. And I soon discovered that those stories were considered rather unconventional in their subject matter being somewhat political, I'm the I write about the environment, I'm an environmental writer, and in centering characters, many people had not seen in fiction before, among them activists. So there was definitely some some, I would say, some tension there, you know, because I wanted this thing for so long and I've been working on it for so long, but to discover that maybe what I was, I was so passionate about what's considered perhaps marginal, or, or outside the mainstream. But so, you know, that's just being honest, that's just being very honest, in terms of many different people have many different experiences and MFAS. But that was definitely part of what I had to grapple with their, but a huge takeaway that I got was, was how to distill once pros, you know, I call it professional strengths, pros, the author, Matt Bell has this wonderful term for weasel words. You know, they are, they are words and phrases that are just not holding the weight, you know, they, they are just taking up space, they're taking up your word count. And I discovered this when one of my mentors there, David long, you take a paragraph that I had written, and I swear to you cut a third of the words out of it without changing a bit of the sense. And in fact, it read the way that I thought it read when I had sent it to him and you know, maybe this is part of what really sent me on my course of first working as an editor, because I saw what magic that was, you know, especially when I started to read for former literary magazines, I read for tin house magazine, RIP. And I found what a difference it made. You know, when I opened up a submission, I could tell right away, I call it professional strength pros. You know, when when the the sense has been cooked down, you know, I love to cook. So I think of it as it's been, it's a reduction, you know, it's it doesn't taste of the original ingredients, it's this own unique finally flavored strongly flavored thing and I really began to see that that has so much to do with what makes work publishable. So that was a huge takeaway I got

Emma Dhesi:

Okay. Well, that's, that's interesting. You said that, because I was thinking my head when you were talking, I was thinking or what's turning words into an art form, which perhaps is not always the most accessible, but you're you're consuming notes more publishable which would kind of suggest that it is more accessible than when it's when it's distilled that...

Susan DeFreitas:

That was, yes. You know, that's interesting. Because, certainly, you know, some people take the poet's approach, you know, and then they do focus on that lyricism and those, those wild turns of phrase, you know, but, but at its heart, this is a process that can apply to to the most straightforward nonfiction writing there is it's simply efficient, and it doesn't waste your time as a reader and and that communicates respect, you know, for the readers time that especially with fiction, you know, where it's not as if you're reading a how to manual, you know, on how to accomplish something in your life, like I help self help book or, or prescriptive nonfiction. You are, someone is asking you to pay attention to something they entirely imagined, you know, well, while your your kids need a snack, and you know, the

Emma Dhesi:

Gives me chills. Just keep talking about the idea laundry is not done and you've got a text from your boss, like, you really owe it to your reader not to waste their time and to communicate very clearly and authority that says, I have a story. You know, I have something astounding to tell you. I have a secret. You must know what this is, you know, and, and yeah, distilled prose hat's... of this being something so special. I love it. I love it. I've got slightly sidetracked what I was very interested in what you're saying. But what I my next question was going to be something I'd read on your website and you described one of your professional values as being literary citizenship and I wondered what that what that means for you?

Susan DeFreitas:

You know, it is, um, it's a term that is an, you know, well in circulation these days in literary communities, and I'm happy to see that, um, and it means different things to different people. But one of the best ways I think I can characterize it is talking about some of the differences I've observed between the more academic MFA, you know, literary circles, and those associated with speculative fiction, which is one of my great loves write science fiction and fantasy, and all of its various derivatives, imaginative fiction, and what I saw in the more academic world, where people were, you know, competing for those top prizes, and, and really, you know, in workshops with each other, yeah, there's a, there's a tendency to be a little competitive, you know, and, and with it, a real tendency to judge your work intensely based on that of others. And also to judge your fellow writers there were, you know, based on your standards, and your ideas and your concerns, etc. Um, and it's natural, and it's human, but it's a, it's an, I'm not convinced that that serves us, you know, as people, as artists, or as a culture and it was a revelation to me when I attended some of my first cons, as they're called, you know, I was a presenter up at Norwescon in Seattle, which, which does a wide variety of fabulous, I mean, the Northwest is just lousy with amazing speculative writers. You know, mmm Neil Stevenson. And, of course, Ursula Gwyn used to live there. God bless her. And she, she passed, I don't know if you heard just a few years back. And I'm actually in the process of editing an anthology and tribute to her work. Absolutely a writer who both literary and speculative. But what I saw in that community was that no matter how well published, no matter how many of the top awards, you know, the writers there had won, they were fans first. Right. And nobody was above, you know, standing in the hallway, having a drawn out conversation with some young geek, about the influence of Pope, you know, on on the genre, or, or, you know, Heinlein or, or their love for, you know, the cJ cherryh, or the feminist themes and first of all, the Gwen's work, and I thought, this is it, this is the ideal, right, is that we are fans first and we are artists second and the love and the passion that we have for for the work that has inspired us and made us you know, that is what we share with a 14 year old kid who has just read the first book that lived their world on and we are still those, no matter how far we become, or, or if we're just beginning, you know, there's a kind of level levelness to it that I found inspiring, and I thought I will serve literary culture. You know, until then, I'd wanted so badly again, I'd started quite young, feeling like, Oh, I'm a prodigy, or whatever, because I was gifted or whatever. And I had disappointed some of my greatest hopes, you know, by the time I was 30, and also went through these workshops, where I learned that, you know, my work really was not the genius thing that I had thought it was. But I thought, you know, what, that's an illusion, that wasn't the goal to begin with. That's not what I should aim for. There. There is no lack of ways for me to be part of this conversation. So that's when I began reading, or working as a reader for magazines. Right. You know, I it was also when I was learning my trade as an editor and learning to serve other writers in strengthening their work. I wrote book reviews, you know, and so I really just, I began teaching, you know, to a certain extent to especially working with young people. I work every year teaching Institute at at interlocking during the summer program on the novel for teenagers with kids in junior high, you know, teaching them about the uses of the imagination in fiction, you know, I just began to see that it was so much bigger then my personal vision as an artist, and that has been the entire key to what to, to establishing, honestly, the beautiful literary life that I have.

Emma Dhesi:

Oh, beautiful, lovely. Um, well, talking about your the Super relife, your novel hot season was winner of the 2017 is gold independent Publishers Association Award for Best fiction of the Mountain West. So I wonder if you could tell us about the book and where the inspiration for it came from?

Susan DeFreitas:

Sure. Yeah. So I shared a little bit with you about my, you know, the process of going through my MFA program. And, you know, when I came into that program, I thought, you know, I'm the kind of person who has far too many ideas for books, you know, people who struggle for ideas, I find it amazing and mysterious that anyone has this problem, I have so many, I'll never be able to get to them all. But out of all possible ideas that I had, I thought, you know, I'm just learning how how to outer really, right now and workshops are, they tend to work better for short stories than they do for novels, right. So I will write a novel. In stories, I was intrigued by the Linked Story form, which I'd studied in undergrad, and I thought, you know, this is a way that I can sort of have my cake and eat it too. You know, even even if the novel winds up being a complete train wreck, I figured I would still be able to take it apart and use some parts, right, maybe still managed to publish your story or to still manage to get a leg up that way, because up till that point, in my life, I had only published nonfiction and poetry. Um, so I wrote a series of stories that was based on events in my own life, and in that in the lives of people I knew at the time, through through my somewhat, you know, bohemian 20s, where I and, you know, a group of young people, all summer associated graduates of Prescott college, you know, we were living in a certain neighborhood in prescot, it was a barrio, is a diverse neighborhood. And we were very concerned with ecological and environmental issues, you know, Prescott college is known for its its focus on the environment. So you study that, regardless of whatever your subject matter is, regardless of whether you're going to school for creative writing, or education or science, you study the environment and the human impact on it. So, you know, I, my friends, were artists, they were activists, they were, they were people who were wanted to be farmers, you know, small scale urban agriculture folks, you know, and it was interesting and inspiring, and, you know, at times ironic group of people to be around, you know, because we were all trying, we're all idealists, you know, focused on these causes. We're also just young people making mistakes, and, you know, having romances and intrigues and all that. But the real inspiration for that first book came one. This is a true story, one of the alumns from our school, um, he had started kind of activist community center in town, and then that the place was raided by the FBI. Oh, and as it turned out, he was one of America's Most Wanted, were having been part of a group responsible, they, you know, they were known as eco terrorists. Okay. Right. And they had they had gone beyond activism and, and gone into what's called monkey wrenching right where they had during the 90s you know, they had done quite a lot of damage to a lot of, you know, buildings and equipment owned by corporations that they had deemed to be, you know, highly destructive to the earth among them timber companies in the up in Eugene Area anyways, you know, I that event was so dramatic, it, okay, and this is really, I got a little choked up thinking about this because this guy was a friend of mine, you know, who's a friend of a lot of our None of us knew this about him his past, all of the people who had been part of the group that he had been part of, they were known as the family and they were all anonymous. In their identities with each other, they had all wound up serving life sentences in federal prisons where they remain and so he was the last of the group to fall in that Domino chain. And so rather than allow that to happen to himself, he took his own life.

Emma Dhesi:

I'm sorry to hear that.

Susan DeFreitas:

And it just rocked our community, because it brought up questions about where do you draw the line? and your commitment to the cause? And, you know, yes, this is this is a matter of life and death in the long run for this planet, but how extreme are you? You know, and how does temperament play into it. And all of these things make this book sound very serious and dramatic, but really my angle on it was, was that at that time, I had two young roommates, I had graduated already, I had two roommates who were still enrolled in school and they told me they got a message from the dean, alerting the student body that undercover agents had been enrolled, and were enrolled, enrolled in classes. So imagine how that affected you know, undergraduate romances at this. We don't know who is who. So I haven't told you much about the plot of the book at all, but I hope it's given you it's taste, it's really...

Emma Dhesi:

Behind the story is just as good. Yeah.

Susan DeFreitas:

This real life event. Yeah. Let's say it's a humorous story about some dark things...

Emma Dhesi:

I am intrigued, I'm definitely getting myself a copy now. Okay, so that said, yeah, that's conference and dark stuff. But here's a humorous story you say? And do you do is that's kind of one of his, like, a style of viewers that you like using humor? And because you've also written around and about kind of fairy stories? And so do you bring your humor into those as well.

Susan DeFreitas:

You know, I really, I really feel that I do work in very different forms. And I, you know, I honestly would say, I mean, sometimes with the fairytales it'll creep in, you know, but, um, it's really, I suit my, my approach to my subject matter. And in that first book, and the book I'm working on now, I told you, I was working on linked stories, that was one manuscript that I've been broke into three sections. And the first section became my first book. I'm now working on the on the next for that project, you know, as Bonnie Guit is, in my year, you know, Tom Robbins is in my ear, even Brod again, who was more experimental is in my ear. And those, those guys are all very funny. You know, um, yeah. Abby and John Nichols, two, two icons of the Southwest literature that are seldom read outside of this part of the of the US, they're both very, very funny people, you know, who wrote about, you know, yeah, the environment monkey wrenching and about, you know, they, they took on that serious subject matter environment, you know, and in the fight to save a land and landscapes, you know, from that humorous perspective. And so it just, that's what came to me when I tried to write about these things. But when, you know, when I write right now, I'm working on a series that fairy tales that deal with climate change, right, um, that for those tales, I'm going to assume the tone of the classic fairy tales that I grew up with, they have a certain amount of repetition, they have a certain lack of embroidery about that, you know, they have a certain, I guess, maybe implied humor, but there's also just a brutality in fairy tales you know, where...

Emma Dhesi:

I think we, we don't I think, these days, we don't know, we don't realize that everything has been defined so much that I haven't studied it myself. But I believe if you go back to the originals, they're really really dark, dark stories...

Susan DeFreitas:

Especially the ones Disney has has mined the most which are brands, you know, grams are quite grim. You know, I the, the tale I have up now the Seven Sisters, Seven ravens in their sister, you know, that's it, there's a turn in the story where the heroine cuts off her own finger and uses it as a key to open In the door, and that's the sort of unthinking violence that, you know, fairy tales, it is the natural province of fairy tales to deal with the dark and I feel like, you know, with climate change, or we're not good at thinking about, about the dark in a way that that is not, you know, sensational, you know, in a way that isn't, you know, the sort of turns you might see on on television or, or movies, like, what it really like, getting to the heart of, you know, this is actually a feature of existence, you know, that we are animals and, and we're subject to, to, to these pains and, and horrors, and I think it suits the truths of climate change. We're just now starting to get hold of these, you know, that things are coming down the line, you know, big forces on, on, on par with the method on what on par with our human history, when there were still wolves and beasties out the door, you know, I think we need these sorts of Tales, to prepare us. And, and not to get too grim, but to prepare our children, you know, because fairy tales, in many ways have been our way of preparing our children. For for the, for the dark truths of human existence. You know, when you think about a story, like blue beard, you know, you know, and the way you know, the, the young girl marries the Lord and his castle, and there's a room that is only one room is forbidden to her. You know, when she opens it, she finds the dead bodies of all of his previous wives. You know, there's there's a kernel at the heart of that, that is speaking to girls about the violence that is potential within romance, and marriage, you know. And so, you know, I'm just interested in the way that these forms might help us to prepare ourselves, you know,

Emma Dhesi:

I like that correlation you've made, you know, it's, it's easy to kind of look back and see that, okay, yeah, fairytales served a purpose. At a time when life was a lot harder. Life was tougher. There wasn't too much pleasure going on. It was it was a hard grind. And I can see them that by taking fairytales now and pushing them into the future rather than the past. And what might happen in the future, if we don't heed the warnings that we're seeing coming now that there's really good. Oh, what's the word I'm looking for? It's, it's, it's giving imagery, I guess it's storytelling in a more accessible way, in a less moralistic way that we see on the news about chatting as we're doing everything wrong. But actually, if your story is more engaging, we're more open to it more receptive, and we can digest it in our own way, and then come to conclusions about Yeah, what does this mean for the future for me, for my children, my grandchildren? Because Oh, actually, I was just talking to my husband about this the other day, just saying, oh, we're all right. We'll be dead before all this happens. But it is the next two or three generations down that are going to bear the brunt of what we're doing. And the two Gen two, three generations before. Yeah, is like I hadn't seen fairytales in that way before and so so thank you for that. That's given me a whole new perspective on them. Yeah. You mentioned before that you you do write in many different forms, some long form like your novel, some more shorts and experimental. Can you kind of talk a little bit more about the different forms that appeal to you?

Susan DeFreitas:

Oh, sure. Um, yes, you know, I do write novels. And with the series that I'm working on now, again, I am taking linked stories, and, and rewriting them as novels, but in so doing, you know, part of what I it's a maddening process, but part of what I really love about it is the way of bits and pieces, you know, chapters from other point of view characters remain in the novel, even even though you know, in the revision, the protagonist has a clear art, there is that rising action towards a point of climax, you know, there is a main storyline, but because I wrote these as linked stories, they're almost asides, you know, where another character will have a chapter in a way that survives on or develops and, and so let's say that I'm enjoying the way that those things work together. And I'm continuing to work with that form. in that series I have on the backburner a more traditional, traditionally structured sci fi novel, dealing with artificial intelligence, although that moves back and forward in time, in a certain way. I also write short stories, you know, straight ahead, not linked stories, I have a collection I've been working on called dream studies. And you know, one of my mentors in graduate school said in an assessment, Susan has a strong tendency for formal experimentation. And I thought I didn't know that about myself before, you know, but it caused me to really embrace it. Even though the stories in Dream Dream studies are traditional story, short stories, and they are not linked. So when I came up with them, you know, I was recovering from surgery. And I really had to have to sit and just be, you know, and not be at the computer to so I sat in the backyard of a notebook, and I've really been interested in the idea of a static, what do you like, what, what do you just enjoy? You know, I kind of had it with the grind of submission schedule, and graduate school, it sucks some of the joy out of the process for me, so I wanted that job back. And to me, aesthetic is where the joy lies, right? So I made a list of things. What do you like in your fiction season? I like books about books. I like libraries. I like architecture, I like odd buildings. I like secret messages. You know, I like notes. Um, you know, I could go on, I like dreams, let's say that too. And, you know, I made a list of all these things. And me, you know, what I did was that I just said, uh, pick this thing here, this thing here, I circle them. And I came up with the plot for a short story, I did that I came up with 12 plots in the course of three days. And then I spent the next three years just writing them. And so all of these stories, they're, they mirror each other in these ways, these themes run through them in a way that I don't think would have arisen naturally. Or, or through a different process. So that's one thing. I also love flash fiction, you know, and I developed, I have developed various different forms for it, um, much in the way a, you know, a sonnet is a form for a poem or a villain malice, I thought, why not have some forms for flash fiction or the lyric essay? So I had developed a number of those for my patreon last year.

Emma Dhesi:

Okay, so yeah, I've been fascinated by this. So we do kind of expand on particularly the one that you mentioned on Patreon is the Fibonacci Spiral. Wonder if you tell me about that.

Susan DeFreitas:

Yes, um, you know, I, and it should be obvious. I'm a geek, you know, being a fan of science fiction I thought I was making here. And I've always been fascinated by forming patterns in nature. And so a Fibonacci spiral. For those who don't know, it's a, it is a form that arises everywhere in nature. And, and in art, too, you know, that it's a sort of spiral pattern that corresponds to the golden mean, which, you know, Da Vinci used in his, in many of his paintings and is still use, you know, it's a form that we tend to find beautiful. If you think of the pattern of, of a Fern, a Fern observes a Fibonacci sequence in the way that it's small leaves become bigger, right? So a Fibonacci sequence is, is a number pattern in mathematics, where the sum of each of the two numbers, well, the easiest way to explain it is say, your first number is zero, right? And say your second number is one, add zero plus one, you get one, right? But then for the next number, you add one plus one, you get two, right? Two plus one, you get three, three, you take the last two numbers, and you add them and what starts very small, soon becomes exponentially much larger. Okay, right. So, you know, I'm not a mathematician, and I'm not explaining As well as I would like to, but I thought why not apply this to work counts, you know, and work in sections. And so I would, I would just set a title for, for a piece of flash fiction or a lyric essay, often based on a fairy tale and set that the word count of the title as my first in the sequence, oka and then I would reproduce that same number count in section one, but then section two, the word count would be the sum of the word counts of the title and the first section and so you It starts off in practice, you know, again, it's a bit of a game, play it out, see how see how it goes. In practice, it winds up being that you sort of make a statement, you make a statement with your title, you make a statement with your first section, and then you elaborate on a gross, two sentences or three. And before you know it, it ends, you know, wherever you choose to end, you know, Fibonacci sequence has no end, it just keeps, you know, the numbers keep getting larger and larger but wherever you choose to end, it has the sense of being a rush, you know, your, your words are tumbling, oh, what started very terse, and very distill, then becomes this, this whole onra of, of images and words and story that you're sharing. And then that I felt like it, it almost felt like a conversation, you know, especially with someone new, where you start off somewhat feeling each other out, but you become more comfortable. And before you know it, you're telling this long winded, you know, story from deep, you know, in your childhood, and you're, you're feeling so connected, or, you know, it really, it was a thought experiment, that when I played it out, I thought this is fun. And this is really interesting. And I'm just very fascinated by where this form can take me. So, again, with fairy tales, I found it easy, I don't have to think too much about what to say, in part because my word counts are set for me, you know, I'm it occupies the part of the brain that's analytical, and it I feel like it kind of keeps you from thinking too much about what you're writing, right, disarming your inner editor. Um, and you know, fairy tales are a subject that are so deep seated for me that I can riff on them. I don't have to think too much about that, either. So what's what has been on earth through this process is often surprising to me. And I love that.

Emma Dhesi:

Oh, cool. Well, so and people can find out about that on your Patreon account company. Very cool. I love it. I love it. And now you mentioned did you mention it? But I'm gonna Well, if not, I'm going to change tack again, and talk more about what you kind of do now and what you do with other writers, which is predominantly coaching and editing. Is that right?

Susan DeFreitas:

That's right.

Emma Dhesi:

Yeah. And so what kind of stories do you like to work with that other people are writing?

Susan DeFreitas:

Yeah, that's, that's great subject and I love that we have had this conversation about, you know, all these experimental forums where we were chatting before this interview, I thought it was saying how it's, it's somewhat ironic, because so much of what I do is, is coach people through an understanding of traditional structure for the novel, you know, in to support them, you know, in their pursuit of landing, the first book deal, which is something I feel very passionate about is helping people break through into publishing. So, a lot of what I do you know, it is brass tacks, it is basics, you know, but but as I understand them, which, you know, I, I there are so many forms people talk about right, and so many forms that are quite effective there's three act structure those four act structure and one of your previous interviews you you mentioned that with it's like a grid structure right there there's the save the cat you know, yeah. Oh, this is derived from movies. There's, there's the, the hero's journey, which is derived from mythic cycles. I think they are all fabulous, you know, and they all work you know, if your story fits into those one of those formats, you can take it to the bank because they are tried and true. But I am, I'm feel very passionately about the fact that not every, none of those structures will fit every story. Right? So my approach to, to coaching people and and helping people as an editor with their novels is to focus on three fundamental things. Okay, which I think are the broad spectrum, you know, yeah, biotic, they will hear most, most of the ills that that can afflict a manuscript. Okay, number one is plot the causality of how one thing leads to another, you know, and how tight they are in time, right? That's the pacing, right? How clearly connected how the story logic is, right. So number one, how the plot connects number two, the character are. And I, I, I put that first honestly, though, most people think of plot first, because I'm a, I'm a protege of Lisa Kron great story, coach. She's also one of my book coaching clients, you know, and good friend, you know, I am a huge believer in what she has on Earth, about the brain science of fiction, which is that it's not about what happens, it's about how it changes the protagonists. It's about who it happens to write. And it's about how it pushes the event, the external events, push the protagonist to grow and change, and come to understand something that they did not before, you know, come to understand, you know, on a deeper level, that something that they have held to be true, is just not true at all. Because that's where the emotional catharsis lies in that realization, you know, and it's also where we derive meaning from fiction, because that's the part that we can take for ourselves, the events of a particular story, you know, we'll probably will probably never encounter those events in our own lives. But that internal truth, and that change in perspective, that's the part that we can use. That's the part that makes us wiser, stronger, better, more empathetic, you know, that is really what we are reading for, whether we realize it or not, the plot sort of the fireworks to capture your attention, right? This is the thing that we we really read for and then finally, the part that makes the story legible to the reader, which is, is the goals and motivations of the protagonist, if you don't know what somebody wants, or what they're trying to achieve, you can't tell what what's even supposed to be happened. Right. So those are the those are the big three that I focus on in my approach to structure. And what I love the types of stories I love to work on, are literary stories, and speculative stories, and those that blur the bounds in between, you know, but particularly, I love to work with writers from historically marginalized backgrounds. So that's writers of color, that's women, that's folk from folks from the LGBTQ spectrum, you know, a differently abled folks, you know, this is the time where we must hear those voices, those voices must be in the conversation. And as a writer of color myself, you know, I am here for that, you know, I am here to support that and then also, you know, just writers who actively seek to engage with the most pressing issues of our day, you know, and that's sexism, that's racism, that's the environmental crisis, that's, you know, poverty and, you know, economic disparity like, these, I do not believe I do not accept that those are not subjects worthy of literature, of the best literature, you know, and I am here to support our writers doing that work and bringing them into the conversation.

Emma Dhesi:

Fantastic and let me ask, do you do you see a change happening in the landscape that way? Do you see more people coming in from these different backgrounds, different experiences, and kind of the subject matter of poverty or environments of racism, sexism, do you see that growing and we are kind of moving in the right way?

Susan DeFreitas:

I feel that we are but you know, at this time, I feel that fiction is is behind nonfiction. You know, if you look at you know, the bestsellers and nonfiction you know, these are our books about here and here in the US. We have books like how to be an anti racists, you know, We are both like as Elizabeth Wilkerson's cast, we have hillbilly ologies, you know, dealing with the the political split and the economic situation, in our rural areas, you know, we these, we are in the midst of an intense, you know, social justice movements, environmental justice movements, you know, that's what's happening in our culture right now, that's what's in the conversation. And nonfiction is getting there quicker than fiction. And that, and that should add, that should be no surprise, because fiction takes longer to cook down, it takes, it takes longer to turn experience, into the stuff of fiction, you know, grapple with meanings, you know, and their impacts these sorts of issues, impacts on the lives of real people and generations, you know, yeah, so it's not surprising to me, but we need to get there, you know, writers, we need to get there. And if you are writing, you know, anybody writing any kind of story at this time, there is a way that your work can intersect with these issues, whatever, whatever particular issue you are most passionate about, right now, you can find a way to get there, you know, within without changing in huge part, you know, your concerns or your approach, you know, and I encourage everybody to do that. But I think, you know, things are changing. Slowly, you know, partially in the publishing industry, as we get more women in in gatekeeping positions, as we head slow, more people of color and gatekeeping positions right now, it seems as if there's far more agents of color than editors, acquisitions, but, you know, I do what I'm seeing and hearing from my agent friends right now, is that I'm part part of what's getting sold and part of the shift is that you know, it, we're still selling straight ahead romances, but, you know, their romances, I love the work of my client, Iai delion. You know, she she writes a feminist romances that, you know, the protagonists are like, former sex workers, you know, they're, they're women of color there, there are women from marginalized backgrounds. You know, she writes, heists, and thrillers, where they're, they're taking on, you know, they're, they're robbing the rich white guys, they're, they're funding public clinics, and, and this is straight head romance, or it's straight ahead, thriller, I think that's so subversive, and it's so brilliant, you know, and, yeah, I was talking with a friend of mine, who's an agent of a couple of weeks ago, we were having zoom drinks. And, you know, she is saying, you know, what I'm looking for what I've really been able to sell are, you know, the, the Y A stories that are, you know, their own voices, you know, they have protagonists with color, or the, or were protagonists, or, you know, there's some angle again, it's not as if the whole structure has changed, there's still say, a romance at the heart of it, or we're coming of age, you know, but, you know, the kids might be activists or they might be, there's all these different ways that these, these pressing issues of our day, are, are now coming into fiction, and I think it's fascinating that it seems to be coming from genre, you know, genres sort of taking a chance that way, because, again, genre is like, its form, right? Like I was talking about a sonnet or a villanelle. As long as you observe the dictates of form, you can kind of put whatever you want to and yeah, you know, and I love the way that form, you know, traditional tropes are being subverted within genre fiction, right.

Emma Dhesi:

So that begs the question then, in the sort of literary circles, then why is it not happening there so much Is it because of the people who are at the top and literary circles and making the decisions about what's bought and sold, that they are of an older type and diverse themselves and so they're not interested in writing and reading about more diverse characters.

Susan DeFreitas:

I, You know, I can't really say exactly what it is, some of it is that that top shelf, you know, literature is dominated by people who went through MFA programs. MFA programs have been pretty white, you know, but beyond that, I received this signal very clearly and I mentioned that earlier. There is a an unspoken element of, oh, academic, creative writing workshops in this country that signals to the young writers who may be interested in particularly the political issues, but that is not a proper subject for good art. Okay, it's changed a bit. When it comes, it's changed a good amount actually, when it comes to, to racism, sexism, because those are so called identity. Politics. Right, right. Or queer stories? Like if it if it is primarily about the individual, then yes, this has been allowed into the Canon and yes, now we have, you know, these top shelf stories coming, you know, books, winning awards coming out about such things, you know, but it's still very rare. I will point to Richard powers, astounding book, The overstory, you know, that, that book breaks form, in that it's not about just one protagonist, you know, and its subject is forest is the forest. And its role in human health, civilization, culture, well being, you know, there's no way he could tell that story in a more traditional way. And, you know, if that had been his first book, I, I doubt he would have broken through it, you know, and I think, you know, in many ways, it's time of people like him, you know, who whose credentials are unassailable, you know, and who's so well established, I think, are, are helping to broaden this idea of what, what you can write about, you know, and still be can have it be considered great art, you know, or high art. And, you know, not to go on too much about it, because I could, this is a subject I'm very passionate about, too. But that signal that politics is not proper two to two literature, is based in the origins of the US MFA program, start the Iowa Writers Workshop, which was developed as a way to counter Soviet era propaganda, right? Because the USSR demanded of its artists that they prop, that they propped up their political agenda. So the US aesthetic was very consciously crafted to, to have nothing to do with that, to focus only on the individual, you know. And I really think it's time to push back against that. Absolutely. So that's my soapbox now.

Emma Dhesi:

Well, I'm just conscious of time because it's a very, you know, it's an emotive subject, and it's very, kind of relevant here and no, so, but I am conscious of time, so I'm gonna and I want people to find out more about you, and where they can find out if they're interested in working with you or more about your written work and self, where can they find out about you online?

Susan DeFreitas:

Well, the best way to find everything about me is on my website, which is just my name, SusanDeFreitas, calm. You'll also find me on Patreon. I believe that's patreon.com/SusanDeFreitas. It might be reversed and might be afraid, Susan is one of those, go to patreon that I'll link to. That's where you'll find all my strange little fairy tales and Fibonacci spirals and such and, yeah.

Emma Dhesi:

Brilliant. That's lovely. Susan, I really appreciate your time and, and sharing so many of your thoughts and your ideas with me and your, your experimental approach to the writing forum. So thank you so much.

Susan DeFreitas:

Well, thank you so much for just a fabulous conversation.

Emma Dhesi:

Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you find that helpful and inspirational. Now, don't forget to come on over to Facebook and Join my group, Turning readers into writers. It is especially for you if you are a beginner writer who is looking to write their first novel. If you join the group, you will also find a free cheat sheet. They're called three secret hacks to write with consistency. So go to emmadeshi.com/turning readers into writers. Hit join. Can't wait to see you in there. All right. Thank you. Bye bye